In the wake of COVID-19, the majority of UMass Boston classes have switched to an online format for the fall 2020 semester. What do remote classes mean for these students? How will this change impact them academically, socially, and emotionally? In an effort to explore and share their unique perspective on these issues, we created and distributed a survey to UMass Boston students.
How are remote classes impacting students’ in-class experience?
For some students, this first semester will mark their first experience with college classes. Like many before them, they will have to adjust their high-school education to fit the rigor of college academics. Unlike many before them, they will have to do so in uniquely stressful and socially unprecedented times.
Communication is one of the most important elements of learning. An environment with healthy, reliable communication is an environment within which learning will thrive best. Conversely, it is immensely difficult to learn in an environment that is not conducive to communication. As the fall 2020 semester truly kicks into gear, many students are beginning to learn this frustration firsthand.
When asked to rate the level of difficulty students experienced while attempting to open and maintain lines of communication with students and faculty members, 45.2% of students reported experiencing moderate communication difficulties. Additionally, 25.8% reported experiencing significant to extreme communication difficulties. “I’m managing right now,” reports one student, “but for the long run I doubt I can continue like this.”
Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of these communication issues is the lack of support that students feel they are experiencing. “I feel like we don't get as much support as we could have gotten if we were doing in-person learning,” comments one student, when prompted to share their experiences with online learning. “It’s less intimate than if we were on campus,” comments another student, claiming that it’s “harder to feel connected to what’s going on [in class].”
In fact, many students cite online/remote learning as a significant factor in their difficulties. Many describe online learning as “more stressful,” “uncomfortable to use,” and “less intimate” than in-person classes, sometimes citing feelings that they’re missing out on the “full college experience,” which is a concern that many students have.
16% of students surveyed were neutral on whether or not online/remote learning impacted the difficulty of their classes, but 38.7% of students claimed that online/remote learning had adversely impacted their learning experience in a significant or extreme way. This is indicative of a trend, especially when considering the correlation between online class difficulty and the tech problems experienced by these students.
I myself have personally experienced some moderate communication difficulties — both with my professors and with other students — that I fear have adversely affected my learning experience at UMass Boston. Being a freshman, I have almost no real basis for comparison, but I am able to recognize that many of the difficulties I’ve experienced would be relatively inconsequential in a traditional learning environment. As it stands, though, this is a paramount concern for many students. Unfortunately, these communication difficulties aren’t just impacting students’ academic experience, they’re also proving to be incredibly detrimental to students’ ability to participate as active members of their school’s community.
How are remote classes impacting students’ social/emotional health and/or school community involvement?
College is often distinguished by the sense of community it provides for its students. For many, it’s hard to break the ice and truly feel included in that community. Talking to new people can be intimidating, but it’s especially hard when you’re also faced with logistical difficulties. In the face of the pandemic, many students are attending classes from their own homes. For many, this means limited to no access to extracurricular activities in a traditional sense. Many clubs and programs have moved online, but what does that mean for student involvement?
The majority of students surveyed report experiencing difficulties getting involved in their school communities. When asked to specify what difficulties they were experiencing, 40% of surveyed students responded that they “did not know how to join clubs and activities.” Nearly 70% of students report having not joined any extracurriculars at all. Of those, 30% claim that they “don’t know anything” about the opportunities that are available to them. Students also reported a lack of familiarity with some of UMass Boston’s major outreach and social connection tools. When asked about ‘UMBeInvolved,’ a website that helps connect students to clubs and activities, nearly 40% of students reported that they had not visited the site. Of those, nearly 30% had not heard of it prior to taking the survey. When asked about ‘Handshake,’ a work and internship platform similar to LinkedIn, students also demonstrated a
lack of familiarity. 58.1% of surveyed students reported that they were unfamiliar with the website. Among those, 45.2% had not heard of it prior to taking the survey. These statistics appear to be indicative of a worrying trend that exists with student outreach, specifically in extracurricular recruitment and student involvement. Many students who wish to be involved in their school community are unable to because they don’t know where to start and are unsure of who to ask. “[I] don’t know much about what clubs are available or not,” reports one student, echoing the sentiments reported throughout the rest of the survey.
These are all very troubling statistics as we get into the swing of the fall semester, as the trend seems to tell that many UMass Boston students are struggling this semester whether it be socially, mentally or academically. We switched to an almost exclusive online based learning curriculum, and though our tuition froze rather than decreasing this semester, are we getting the full experience we paid for, or are we simply agreeing to it, because we have to? What will this mean in the regards to retention rates at UMass Boston?